How Do I Forgive Myself?



Morning friends,

I so appreciate you – you’re the best! I have great news! My new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope is going to be available a month early on September 17th instead of October 17th. I’m so excited about what this book will offer not only to women in destructive marriages, but also to people-helpers who try to help. Those in ministry often mean well but don’t always know how to handle these kinds of situations in ways that don’t cause more harm.

I will be offering a steep discount for those of you who read this blog and my newsletter. I need you to spread the word to others through your tweets, Facebook posts and word of mouth. Be sure to watch your August and September newsletters for details on how to order. You can also pre-order the book on now ( I will also be doing a free webinar on the topic early in September, so stay tuned for details.

Are any of you experts in Pinterest and willing to put together some boards for me? I do not have time to learn this tool but would love to get some picture boards together for my new book and related topics.

Today’s question is an important one because it has to do with you, not your abuser. A recent blog on how to forgive others ( spurred one reader to ask the question, “How do you forgive yourself?” She asked:

Today’s Question: The hardest person to forgive is myself. I once heard that this attitude or inability to forgive myself was an insult to God because if He forgives me, who am I to not forgive myself? Am I greater than God that I should withhold forgiveness towards my own self?

This perspective helped me for a while, but once I committed another sin or mistake, I went back to not being able to forgive myself. This is so hard. My problem becomes greater when I fail to succeed in a romantic relationship. I think about what I did wrong over and over again and how I could have changed it or made it better. How do I stop this? I’ve been unforgiving towards myself for the past 6 months and it is eating me alive. I’d really like to be free and forgiven by myself just like God forgives me and wants me to be free of guilt.

Answer: Your question is an important one because inevitably as human beings we all sin, make mistakes and fail at things. The writer of James says it well when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2). When we aren’t able move beyond our failures, mistakes and even sins, we can get stuck in a spiral of debilitating regret, depression and even self-hatred.

The person who told you that your inability to forgive yourself insults God brings up an excellent point. If the God of the Universe was willing to come to earth, become human and sacrifice himself to forgive our sins, who are we not to forgive–either others or our own self? Yet that theological truth can be difficult if not impossible to put into practice when we’re in the middle of ruminating over our stupidity, mistakes, missed opportunities or sin.

Most of the time shame, guilt and self-hatred arise because we have failed to live up to our own idealized image of ourselves. Do you ever hear yourself saying things like, “I should have known better” or “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” or “I can’t believe I did that?” or “What’s wrong with me?”

These kinds of statements are evidence that you have an expectation of yourself to always do it right, to always say it right, to always know ahead of time what the right answer should be or what solution will best solve a problem. When you fail (as you inevitably will), you feel disappointed in yourself. You tell yourself that somehow you should be better than you are. And, in your particular case, when you’re involved romantically and this happens, you make it the sole reason the relationship failed.

You rehearse over and over again what you could have or should have or ought to have done, said or not said, so that the relationship wouldn’t have failed. But guess what! Every single person messes up in relationships. We all say or do the wrong thing at times. We all are imperfect, flawed, sinful human beings and yet many of us have decent relationships with other flawed, fallible, imperfect, sinful human beings. So mistakes, failures and even sins aren’t the reason your relationships are not lasting or succeeding. If that were true, no one would be capable of having any long term or loving relationships.

The problem is that you want control over how the relationship goes and you believe a dangerous lie. The lie is: if only you could be MORE perfect, then the relationship will succeed. If only you were more perfect, then the other person would love you, or never hurt or leave you. That’s not true. Look at Jesus. He was perfect and people disappointed him. They didn’t always love him very well–even his own disciples abandoned him. His family thought he was crazy. He was spit upon, beaten, mocked, and nailed to the cross. Being perfect does not guarantee loyalty, love or lovability.

The reason you can’t forgive yourself is because you want to be like God–you want to be perfect and in control of things and you can never get there, even if you try really, really hard. There is only one God, and he’s not you.

Therefore, the way out of this bondage when you mess up is not self-forgiveness but rather self-acceptance. You must accept who you are. You are both saint and sinner, beautiful and broken, strong and weak, naughty and nice. Humility is the path that will give you the freedom you seek because, when you are humble, you can emotionally accept you are a creature–a fallible, imperfect and sinful creature. Once you do that, you will not be so shocked, or shamed, or disappointed by your darker, weaker, sinful side.

It’s not your mistakes and failures that are causing your greatest emotional pain. It’s your unrealistic expectations of yourself and your lack of acceptance when you make mistakes, you are weak, you do sin and you fail, which causes your emotional spiral downward into self-hatred and despair. In a backwards way, your pride has been wounded. You are disappointed that you aren’t better than you are, but the truth is, you’re not. In embracing that truth, you are set free.

The solution you’re seeking is not to forgive each mistake or failure, but to accept that you will make mistakes, sin and fail. Once you accept this truth, the self-hatred for doing so no longer has any power over you. Instead, that same energy can now be used to humbly ask for forgiveness from others where necessary. It can be used to learn from your sins or failures so you don’t continually repeat them, which, if left uncorrected, will harm your relationships.

One of my old fashioned mentors, François Fénelon wisely wrote, “Go forward always with confidence, without letting yourself be touched by the grief of a sensitive pride, which cannot bear to see itself imperfect.”

Go forward, friend, and emotionally accept your imperfections. It is in that place of humility coupled with Christ’s unconditional forgiveness that will you find the freedom you long for.



  1. Shan on June 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Also, if the person you are in a relationship with expects you to be perfect then that is not the right person to be dating! I know I will always struggle in some areas because of my ex-husband’s abusive behavior, but if I do decide to date I pray for a godly man who has an extra generous portion of patience in those areas.

  2. Vikki on June 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I LOVE this because I feel many Christian women (at least in the Bible belt where I live) feel that self anything is wrong. Self compassion, self care, self acceptance, self respect… there is a guise of “Jesus, Others, then You” that many use to tear women down.
    A few years ago, I decided to ignore those mandates, and believe that it does me no good to think of myself as teeny tiny and put others just above teeny tiny. It’s better if I think amazing things about myself and put people above that! That would make me love others as “more than amazing”!
    Again, thank you for bringing us back to our senses, as we so strive to love our Lord AND ourselves! And others as we heal …..

  3. tryingtodogood on June 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Wow! This was so helpful to me. It is one thing to focus on the abuser, but I have sinned in response to him as well. I understand the pride part of this and it will help me to accept myself as an imperfect human being. The thing that I struggle with is knowing that God hates sin so I am stuck in a catch-22 of He forgives me if I confess my sin, but He also hates it! I find it very difficult not to focus on the latter. It’s been nearly impossible for me to accept myself and move on after I make a mistake or sin. Does God hate my sin when it’s supposed to be washed in the blood of Christ?

    • Leslie Vernick on June 4, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      I don’t think God sees our sin when it’s covered by the blood of Jesus. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

    • Brenda B on June 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

      God forgives and forgets our sin. He is soooo much greater than we are. We may forgive, but never forget.

      There was a time that I beat myself up over everything, each deicision, each misuse of words, each time I got angry. I had to learn to ask God for forgiveness and dwell in the reassurance that he is not done with me yet. That everyday he is changing my heart and making me into the person that he wants me to be. I ask every day for him to forgive my sins and shortcomings, to change my heart from the inside out and point out those things that I should change. When I began to think about changing and not forgiving myself I began to forget about those negative feelings about past failures and focused on the positve that God was doing in me. The spirit filling me makes all the difference. What you dwell on makes that frown go upside down.

  4. Cookie on June 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Excellent,excellent,such a lifeline to us drowning is self-loathing! God bless you, Leslie.

  5. Brenda B on June 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Leslie: I am glad to hear it. Since I just “got out” this week, I am sure I will need reminders and verification that what I did was the correct move. Thank you so much for your support and service.


  6. Sandy on June 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Leslie here is another test email address…


  7. Renee on June 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Exactly what I needed to hear. I never thought about a wounded pride. So glad you brought me back to reality, its not about me. Its all about Him. Always has been, and glad He loves me no matter what.
    I think I’ll post this on the wall, so I don’t forget

    Now I can have some peace.

  8. Alice on June 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I really needed to hear this again. Not only for myself for others who are struggling with their failures. I learned years ago, after leaving my husband of 30 years for another man, how guilt and self condemnation can spiritually and physically can wreck havoc on yourself. It were as if God spoke to me one day and asked me, “Have I not completely forgiven you?” I said, “Yes, Lord”. Then “He said lift up your eyes and live as if you have been forgiven.” I was not giving God any glory by my self hatred and condemnation! I praise God for Leslie because she has shown me that there is nothing God can’t forgive except unbelief! I am not a god, I am not perfect, but I have a God that completely forgives and holds me close as He works His will into my life!

  9. Laura on June 10, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I have had to humble myself to my very core, not once but many times…Doing things differently doesn’t mean doing them right, I was still doing things my way. Although, I haven’t figured it all out and relationsip failures are still painful; I can now stand on God’s truth that I am worthy of love, appreciation and forgiveness. And, that God’s will is much more beautiful than anything I can ever create for myself.

  10. Natesha on July 2, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I am 35 , married and not happy with where I am in my marriage or my life due to my poor choices. I got married knowing that my husband was not a Christian and that he hated all things related to church especially me being so involved in it and with “those ” people. God told me not to marry him but in my desperation for love , security and out of loneliness I married him anyway. So from age of 21 to 34 I was working hard to make my marriage work and also to make my husband understand tht my love for God and my desires to seve Him don’t mean that I love him any less. Parenting our children has also become quite a hassle along with our idea of a healthy sexual relationship within marriage.

    I was finally abl to sit me think through these thing over the last year as I am living in one state and he is living in another ( until he finds a job here). I have been beating myself up over my poor choice and wondering how my life w old have been different if I listened to God warning me then versus now. I ain’t a do over and want to be divorced so I Evan be single, raise our kids and be happy.

    For so many years I allowed myself to be manipulated and taken advantage of. I allowed him to make all the decisions and did not speak up for myself. Now that I have begun reading Leslie Vernick, I am finding a freedom that I did not have before. I am beginning to be honest about how I feel onion things to my husband and I have made decisions regarding how I wear my hair and if I want to wear makeup. I am learning to love myself and to not feel guilty if I love wearing long skirts and my husband wants me to wear tight short clothing. I am learning to be comfortable in my own skiin.

    I still am working through the feelings of regret and bitterness and anger with myself for not listening to God. I have repented and I am asking God for help daily because I don’t want to divorce but I also want to be happy. I want to no longer be entangled with the yoke of bondage which is marrige to an unbeliever who I find it hard to communicate with.

  11. Valerie on July 23, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Dear Leslie,

    Your book, “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship”, has been a tremendous help. I first heard your story on the radio, and since that time, I’ve heard you time and again. I was thankful that this topic was given air time, especially on christian stations.

    Even christian couples struggle, but the most severe are the unequally yoked. I too was warned, and then given a direct order by God “To Leave Now”, I gave myself a multitude of reasons why to stay. I’m on my own now, and have been for almost two years.

    I still have residual effects, the being hard on myself is true. The reversal of pride is a new concept. Abuse for me began at an early age. No Love what so ever, only hatred. Two failed marriages, the two are abusers. The story is long, and I could type out specifics till early dawn.

    Thank You for Loving God, and in his Love helping us. Looking forward to your new book

    God Bless,


  12. Susan on August 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I am weeping as I read Leslie’s response. I so desperately needed to hear this. I too tend to beat myself up for mistakes I have made in romantic relationships including my previous marriage. When I stop and think about the abuse I was enduring and how they were behaving, I realize I was only being human, but for some reason that is not what I focus on. I focus on what I did wrong. I have been beating myself up for my last failed relationship for over a year. Thank you Leslie. I have a lot of work to do but at least now I have some direction.

  13. Christina on September 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Why do we have to forgive ourselves when our husbands abuse us? Is it our fault for them abusing us? We didn’t choose to be verbally, emotionally, mentally, or physically abused by them they made that choice then manipulated us into believing they will change so we give them another chance to only the abuse continuing.

    I will say this, verbal, mental and emotional abuse is very painful because it sticks in your head from the so many times you hear it and you eventually believe it.

    Although I also endured physical abuse from him as well. I think though his plan to move me away from my job that I worked so hard to get because I am deaf is hitting me the hardest. I went to college while I was almost deaf and earned my Associates in Accounting. I was able to work for a few companies before I got my good job with all the benefits. I did eventually lise the rest of my hearing while at that job and he came pregnant with our first child and he decided to move us almost 2 hours away from my job. I was forced to quit being a new mother and all. Now, it’s been a long 13 year struggle even with the experience I had no one will hire me not even Target. I had 2 more children during the 13 years and am struggling financially because I can’t get a job.
    Each day goes by and all these available jobs that I am qualified for will not even respond to my resume and it kills me. Now I am in the process of getting a cochlear implant in one ear in hoping it will allow me to land a job. There is no guarantee this will even work.

    The point is it has made me feel like such a failure and loser.

    • Leslie Vernick on September 16, 2015 at 2:49 pm

      We don’t have to forgive ourselves unless we keep beating ourselves up for the things we didn’t know or are chronically angry with ourselves and then we need to figure out how to let it go. Forgiving ourselves is one path.

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